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Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
Home Vision Entertainment
2001 / color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 119 min. / Akai hashi no shita no nurui mizu / Street Date June 24, 2003 / 29.95
Starring Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Mitsuko Baisho, Mansaku Fuwa, Isao Natsuyagi, Kazuo Kitamura
Cinematography Shigeru Komatsubara
Production Designer Hisao Inagaki
Film Editor Hajime Okayasu
Original Music Shinichiro Ikebe
Written by Shohei Imamura, Daisuke Tengan, Motofumi Tomikawa from a novel by Yo Henmi
Produced by Masayo Nakamura, Hisa Iino
Directed by Shohei Imamura

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is a relaxing, pleasant and sexy fable of a movie, adapted from a novel that clearly has some points to make about the relationship between water, women, the ocean, and life. Shohei Imamura (Black Rain) uses a soft touch to paint a delicate picture about personal solutions to modern tensions. More than a little weird, the film is never less than compassionate with its characters.


Yosuke Sasano (Koji Yakusho) is adrift in Tokyo, looking for work while his wife lives separately, nagging him for more money over a cell phone. He spends time down by the river with a bum philosopher named Taro (Kazuo Kitamura), who tells him of a red bridge next to a house in a town to the West, where he left a gold statue long ago. Yosuke goes there, finds the red bridge, and reacts positively to the more relaxed atmosphere. He also connects with Saeko Aizawa (Misa Shimizu), a young woman with a bizarre problem - pure, clean, warm water builds up inside her, creating an emotional distress that can only be relieved through sex - which releases a torrent. It's so potent, fisherman gather to catch the fish that flock to where her water joins the river. Yosuke falls in love with Saeko, but there are understandably some problems to work out.

With a touch of Latin American magic realism (remember the burst of birth fluid in Like Water for Chocolate that yields pounds of salt?), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge creates a fantastic world that's easily understood. It's sexy, and a little wanton, but somehow avoids bad taste, even when a coupling pair of lovers gives forth with geysers of fluid coming seemingly out of nowhere.

It's a rich, humorous, and balanced story involving people we care about. Yosuke is a salesman with an architectural firm that fell apart, and we see him enduring a demeaning job interview where his situation is presented as a major embarassment - no referral, over 40, out of luck. He goes in search of Taro's fortune just for a break from this misery, and finds possibilities in the new community: peace, love, and a job as a fisherman (back to the ocean again). Washed-up as a wage-earner, his usefulness to his wife seems to be at an end. But after only a day or so in the 'red bridge town', he connects with a cantankerous but friendly fishing boat operator, an African Olympic runner in training, and the hypnotically attractive Saeko.

There's a nice tension, wondering if Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is going to turn a corner into darker themes. A strange diversion at the midpoint shows a possible ecological/mystical source of Saeko's strange malady. We visit a giant particle accelerator tunnel (exactly why is not clear). The old philosopher Taro had some secrets he never told Yosuke. Is Saeko's senile grandmother hiding some secret as well? And characters keep remarking that Yosuke is the spitting image of one of Saeko's earlier lovers, who died under muysterious circumstances. Yet the tone remains humorous and playful, like a crazy fairy tale for adults.

As we've never seen a picture quite like this one (an endorsement in itself), we aren't sure if it will turn out to be an updated version of a ghost story, like Kwaidan - a man meets a strange woman and falls under her spell, etc. Saeko interacts with lots of people besides Yosuke, so we know she's no ghost. But she might be some ancient water spirit, as her mother seemed to believe. Refreshingly, the story stays with the construction of a personal philosophy - stay open-minded to others, and solutions to life's worst problems will present themselves.

Shohei Imamura's direction is assured, and Shigeru Komatsubara's cinematography very pleasant and colorful - we're in the hands of master filmmakers every step of the way. Shinichiro Ikebe offers a quirky, humorous musical score that's weird without being sinister. The stars are attractive, and in the case of Misa Shimuzu, mysterious and human at the same time. With all the crazy lovemaking going on, there are some pretty explicit sexual situations, but the stress is on interpersonal chemistry (especially H20), not voyeurism.

Home Vision Entertaiment's DVD of Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is a very attractive presentation, that can boast a perfect enhanced transfer, both picture and sound. A text extra provides background on the film's acclaimed director, and a funny international trailer does its best to position the film as a mainstream art entry.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer, text filmography
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 20, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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